Carter Gordon's post-game pain was the denouement of a tough-to-watch Rebels loss to the resurgent Waratahs at the SCG on Saturday.
Gordon, one of Australia's most promising young playmakers, was in tears and being consoled by thoughtful teammates after he missed touch with a crucial late line kick from a penalty in a 24-19 loss.
The 21-year-old was widely tipped for a breakout Super Rugby Pacific campaign after last season's promise but instead he was dropped after round one of Melbourne's still-winless season.
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The Rebels almost pulled NSW's pants down after coming back from a 14-6 half-time deficit against a superior but sleepy side.
Man of the match Lalakai Foketi bust through Gordon and others for the opening try with five-pointers to Will Harris and Alex Newsome appearing to put the result beyond doubt.
But Melbourne kept in touch through penalties before prop Cabous Eloff's 67th-minute try set up a nervous finish for the home fans.
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Foketi busts through the Rebels
"I wouldn't say that was a performance to be proud of," stand-in Waratahs captain Jed Holloway said after the club's first back-to-back wins since August 2020.
"Last year we probably lose that game," NSW playmaker Will Harrison added.
Fullback Harrison appears likely to have an extended run in the No.10 jersey after his great mate Ben Donaldson "felt a pinch" in his lower calf, putting him in line for scans.
NSW prop Angus Bell and lock Geoff Cridge also sustained injuries but new coach Darren Coleman's headaches will be eased when he glances at the ladder and sees last season's laughing stock sitting third on the Super Rugby table.
Attention now turns to Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, who will pick his first Australian squad of the season on Sunday.
The in-form Holloway batted away talk of selection in a 40-man group but his versatility is a major plus for tight tournament squads at the Rugby World Cup.
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